Why public washrooms are the ultimate male conspiracy
Tom Spears
Ottawa Citizen

September 27, 2004

How do you keep women in line? By not building adequate public washrooms, says a professor of architecture in Illinois.
It works, says Kathryn Anthony. Check out the lines forming at the women’s washroom door while men saunter in and out of their washrooms without waiting.

Okay, this isn’t news in itself. But Professor Anthony, of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, says “restroom parity” is an issue whose day has come. (The Dark Matter household knows all about this one. The National Arts Centre has to be the most under-toileted building in town.)

Oh, and while we’re at it, the professor says it’s time to equip men’s washrooms with more stalls, for men with “shy bladder syndrome” who can’t relax when they’re on public view at a urinal.

She and graduate student Meghan Dufresne have written in an architecture journal that “it is now time for architects, facilities managers and building code officials to revisit public restrooms -- and they need a major overhaul.”

There has been progress in recent years on the parity front, Anthony says. Some state and municipal building codes now require public buildings to install women’s toilets at a rate of two, three or even four for every men’s toilet or urinal. Most legislation, however, applies only to new construction, major places of assembly or major remodeling projects.

Another glitch: An aging population will need caregivers and attendants. If a man with dementia has to use the bathroom, where does his wife or a female attendant take him? To the men’s room, leaving him alone there, “while an anxious family member of the opposite gender must wait outside.”

She had to do this herself while her husband was in a wheelchair.

But there’s no association of public washroom users to press for change. Time for architects to get involved and demand better standards, the professor argues.

“Like it or not, most of us use public restrooms every day,” Anthony said.

© Ottawa Citizen 2004


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